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Chief Justice: Progress made in addressing backlog

The year 2018 saw eight hundred and eighteen civil claims made to the courts inclusive of bail applications.  Chief Justice Benjamin stated in his address that a backlog in court cases was a serious issue.  In the last year, the progress made in addressing the matter, is impressive, including the fact that all murder cases up to 2016 have been addressed in some form.

Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin: “ In the criminal division with a full complement of judges to serve the criminal division supplemented by two additional justices devoted to backlog cases the result were extremely encouraging. In January 2018 Madam Justice Williams inherited a dormant list of 131 cases formally before retired Justice Gonzalez over the years and an additional twenty four cases were added, approximately forty of the older cases from the original list were assigned to Mr. Justice Colden Williams and as of November 15th 2018 with both Justice Williams sitting in Belize City they have disposed of a total of 62 cases respectively. Over the period of January 2018 also sitting in Belize City Mr. Justice Lucas disposed of 21 cases. At the end of 2018 Justice Lucas’s list stands at 112 cases with the oldest cases being one matter that dates back to 2013. Two a matter that date back to 2014 and seven matters that date back to 2015. In the southern session in the Stann Creek District 29 matters were disposed off by Justice Hannamond Singh with 38 Cases Pending. In Punta Gorda Justice Cumberbatch disposed of 20 cases up to November the 6th 2018 and there are only 12 recently indicted matters pending. The combined efforts of Justice Moore and Cumberbatch in the criminal division of the Supreme Court sitting in Belmopan resulted in 49 cases being disposed of and as much as the list stood at 91 cases and 44 new cases were added in the course of 2018 and I am pleased to report that all murder cases up to 2016 have been heard or otherwise disposed of. The northern session opened in January 2018 with 65 cases, 10 cases were reassigned five new matters were added to the list. A total of 21 matters were disposed of and the pending list stands at 51.

At the official opening, It has been a custom to have the judiciary report on its achievements and challenges in the previous calendar year.  Chief Justice Benjamin made mention of the backlog in court judgements and how this matter was addressed in 2018 as well as the addition to its human resources.

Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin: “In 2018 it was announced that two temporary judges  would be engaged to specifically address backlog reduction efforts for a period of one year. That process was mobilized in Belize City and in the Southern session of the criminal division. Honorable Mr. Justice Colin Williams commence sitting in the central district in Belize City from March 5th 2018. His excellency the Governor General was pleased to appoint the Honorable Mr. Justice Francis Cumberbatch as a Justice of the Supreme Court from February the second 2018. Justice Cumberbatch is the product of the Council of Legal Education having graduated from the University of the West Indies with a bachelor of Laws Degree in 1974 and having received the certificate of legal education from the Huewerding Law School in 1976. He is a CARICOM national that has been in private practice, served as acting director of public prosecutions of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas High Court Judge and presiding judge of the criminal division of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court between the years 2007 and 2017. His lordship was first assigned to the central district sitting along with the Honorable Justice Antoinette Moore in the city of Belmopan and there after in the Southern session in Punta Gorda in the Toledo District and Dangriga in the Stann Creek District. Justice Cumberbatch brought his considerable experience to bear on the pending cases dating back to before 2016. Of significance is the fact that Supreme Court was convinced in it’s criminal jurisdictions in Punta Gorda Town after a lapse of ten years of a jury panel comprised of persons drawn from Punta Gorda and its environs. In January 2018 her honor to Kadeen Pamu was appointed as Magistrate having served as assistant registrar of the Supreme Court. She has been assigned to the Belize Judicial District sitting in court 6 in Belize City. During 2018 I am pleased to report that four persons answered the call issued last January 2018 at the opening of the last legal year for Attorneys to offer themselves for service to optimise the compliments of  Magistrates. As a result after suitable orientation Captain Lionel Olivera of the Belize Defence Force Mr. Manon Dennison of the Belize Police Department. Ms. Christina Pereira and Ms. Trisha Pitts Anderson who was sworn in as Magistrates. Magistrate Perrea has been assigned to the Judicial District and r. Magistrate Pitts Anderson and they both sit in Belize City. Magistrate Olivera is on Secondment from the Military for a fixed period and is presently the District Magistrate in the Corozal Judicial District. Magistrate Dennison is a former very able former prosecutor and his honor now sits as District Magistrate in Dangriga in the Stann Creek Judicial District also covering the Independence Magistrate Court notwithstanding these recent additions to the Magisterial Bench there remains vacancies for Magistrates in the district and Summary Courts and in the Family Court. The call is there for renewed for Attorney’s at Law to offer their services whether permanently or for a fixed period as Magistrates.

Chief Justice Benjamin noted that there will be new blood injected into the courts.  These new appointments are to replace two retired justices.  Benjamin recognised Justices Denis Hanomansingh and Adolph Lucas as they have both retired from the judiciary upon celebration of their 75th birthday last December.

Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin: “In December 2018 Mr. Justice Adolph Lucas and Mr. Justice Densisoon Hannamond Singh celebrated their 75th Birthdays and there upon were obliged to mandatory retire from the bench. Both gentlemen had been assigned to the criminal division. Justice Hannamond Singh was appointed in January 2011 and thereafter served an approximate period of eight years as a Judge of the Supreme Court. Mr. Justice Lucas has been the consummate public servant and judicial officer having commenced his working life as a Police officer then moving on to becoming a private practitioner, Crown Council, Magistrate, Director of Public Prosecutions and laterally a Justice of the Supreme Court. It is well accepted in Judicial circles that Justice Lucas has been the in house oracle and fountain of knowledge. His approach, his ability, his humility, his devotion to the law are enviable traits worthy of emulation by any Judicial Officer. Undoubtedly he will be missed and we thank both Justices for their service. A process for the replacement of the vacancies resulting from the two recent retirement is a foot and an announcement of the resulting appointments is imminent. In August 2018 Magistrate Natalia Bevans proceeded into retirement. Magistrate Bevans came to the Family Court having been a civilian prosecutor she became a qualified Attorney at law and also earned a Master’s Degree in Law. We thank her for her service and wish her success in her future endeavours. In December 2018 Ms. Ivey Pitts was appointed as a Magistrate of the Family Court and we welcome her to the bench.

As it relates to the pending cases and those persons who are on remand at the Belize Central Prison, Chief Justice Benjamin gave the data on incarcerations.

Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin: “As of December 31st 2018 the statistics made available from the Kolbe Foundation revealed that there are 260 persons remanded by the Magistrates Court and Family Court, 182 persons are remanded by order of the Supreme Court of which 9 persons are awaiting sentence, decision after trial and extradition. One person is detained at the pleasure of the Supreme Court. Of the remaining 172 cases awaiting trial before the Supreme Court 74 remandees have been in custody prior to the end of 2016. An overwhelming majority are cases of murder and these matters will be prioritized for disposal in 2019. It is progressive to note that the end of 2017 the remand population stood at 157 persons awaiting trial for over 2 years so there has been a slight improvement.